By LorettaRodgers
Spirit staff / lrodgers@chesterspirit.com

The lack of residents attending last Thursday night did not dampen the enthusiasm of Chester’s Planning Department while presenting a new design plan for the Union Square neighborhood.

Representatives of CH Planning, Ltd., a Chester-based urban planning and design firm, using large display boards, chronicled the planning process from conception to a final working draft.

The plan focuses on the revitalization of West 2nd through 5th streets and recommends improved streetscapes, new commercial opportunities and enhanced access to waterfront amenities. It also addresses blight conditions, including vacant lots and buildings, the lack of community-serving goods and businesses, increased traffic and the demand for parking, resulting from the construction of PPL Park.

For more than a year, city planners have worked closely with residents to establish a realistic vision that is implementable, focusing on physical improvements which include the installation of green landscaping, medians, lighting, traffic signals and building renovations and redevelopment.

“Please remember that nothing here is set in stone,” said Chester City Planner William Payne. “This is a work-in-progress. We know we can’t do this all at once. The first phase will be taking control of the ground by cleaning the area up and addressing the vacant lots and buildings.”

Chester Director of Economic Development James Turner said the plan’s primary focus is to determine, with residential input, what is necessary to enhance the development on the waterfront and create a “wish list” of sorts.

“It is important to determine what the needs and challenges are and to recognize what is expected by the community,” said Turner. “We are looking forward to the future.

CH Planning’s Oliver Carley explained that during the planning stage, four major key elements were examined in detail. They include the new off-ramps from U.S. 322, the significance of the Highland Ave. SEPTA regional rail station, conditions of neighborhood sidewalks and a provision for specific anchors in the community such as parks, etc.

Carley said residents requested more recreation facilities, less crime, garbage removed on a timely basis, a gathering or meeting space and a gateway welcoming visitors and residents to Union Square.

The plan includes the addition of a landscaped, tree-lined median on Route 291 that would be created by reducing traffic lanes from a total of five to just two in each direction. There would also be parking areas, a shopping center; a park with a playground, chess and checkers boards, and a fountain.

Residents attending seemed intrigued by the plan, but questioned the overall costs involved and whether their taxes will be affected by the proposal.

Even with persistent questioning from residents and the media, no firm dollar figures were quoted, but it was reiterated that some funds have been put aside by state government leaders for development of the area, but it will be necessary for private investors to get on board as well.

The next step is for the plan to be approved by Chester City Council and with that approval, possibly local dollars will be also available.

Council members Shepard Garner and Portia West were present for the presentation.

“I can only speak for one-fifth of Council,” remarked Garner, a reference to himself as one of five Council members. “I am a member of this community that is being affected and I think this is a great plan; but once it’s approved, we have to figure out how to pay for it.”

West questioned possible ramifications to taxpayers. “How will this redevelopment and revitalization affect the residents?” she asked. “Because as you know, reassessment will occur and taxes might go up. But, I also understand that commercial opportunities might provide relief.”

Crafters of the plan hope to increase the commercialization of the area by attracting new businesses such as restaurants, coffee shops and others.

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